Bilawal Zardari‘s statement that the Taliban and ISIS are the predominant forces in Afghanistan‘s politics is accurate. He made this declaration on the international stage, where the Taliban and Daesh are widely recognized as the main players. The efforts to advance democracy, education, and governance for Afghanistan in world politics were terminated in August 2021.
Since then, influential countries, particularly Pakistan and the United States, have been at odds in their attempts to transform the former terrorist group, the Taliban, into the new terrorist and government organization, ISIS. They have employed a variety of tactics, ranging from military, diplomatic, and propaganda support to consultation, anger, and threats, in order to bring the Taliban to an official status. However, they have been unsuccessful, as the Taliban have failed to become the powerful force that Pakistan‘s army and intelligence, as well as other regional and global supporters, had envisioned. The Taliban have their roots in rural, sectarian, religious, and traditional origins, and thus cannot be manipulated by intelligence alone. As a result, this former terrorist group and the current government have become a monster that is unable to satisfy either itself or its foreign friends. Internally, it is facing increasing tension and contradictions, while externally, it is under the pressure of demands that exceed its capacity.
In the interim, ISIS has become a two–edged sword that Talib and his foreign allies use against one another. Foreign allies and supporters who favor recognizing the Taliban‘s rule have their own ISIS and urge the Taliban to reduce their rural, religious, and tribal aspects and focus on intelligence and diplomatic duties to be officially recognized. The Taliban also utilizes ISIS‘s platform to suppress the opposition, intimidate the populace, and justify the world‘s inevitability to recognize the Emirate.
ISIS is not the only force of resistance against the Taliban; it is widely known that since their inception, the Taliban have been waging war against the people of Afghanistan, resulting in much bloodshed and terrible atrocities. The Taliban have not achieved notoriety for their acts of terrorism, bloodshed, and oppression in Pakistan or elsewhere, but in Afghanistan through their confrontation of the people of this land. There is a growing nationwide and inclusive resistance to the Taliban‘s reactionary policies of closing schools, promoting extremism and animosity towards individuals, and restricting social freedoms, discrimination, and killing of opponents, with the majority of the people of Afghanistan refusing to support them.
The people‘s resistance against the Taliban has had its highs and lows, but has never ceased. To date, no other group has encountered such widespread opposition from the populace as the Taliban. It may be possible to downplay the ongoing resistance on diplomatic platforms, however, anyone who visits Afghanistan or interacts with Afghans online will recognize that the resistance is far more tangible than the Taliban‘s rule. It would be erroneous to limit resistance to armed conflict, as this is only the most extreme form of resistance. We are referring to the various forms of resistance that are being employed against the Taliban.
1) Urban Residents’ Resistance: Unfortunately, the government in Afghanistan remains largely an urban phenomenon. However, over the last two decades, the influence of the government, urban manifestations, and values have penetrated large parts of the villages, altering the concept of the government and expectations of people from the government and public services. Roads, media, schools, and minimal government services have reached almost every corner of the country, though those cities and areas close to urban areas were more familiar with the value of the government, having a system, and thus the danger of demilitarization and the medieval rule of the Taliban than the rural areas. Half the nation felt the threats posed by the Taliban regime and responded accordingly. The collective effort of people to leave their homeland and the painful images seen of the borders, airports, passport distribution centers, smuggling routes, and foreign countries are all signs of those reactions. Those who escaped the country were not only politicians, soldiers, and people who left out of fear of the Taliban‘s revenge and to save their lives, but also members of the National Resistance Front against the Taliban. Thousands of our compatriots have left and sought refuge in camps and factories of neighboring countries to rebuild their lives and those of their families. The Patriots who remain in the country have resisted the inhumane restrictions of the Taliban as much as possible. Many Afghans have not given up their non–Taliban way of life and clothing, instead protesting in schools, offices, shops, media, and almost everywhere else.
2) Women’s Resistance: The number of women who have defended their rights and stood against the Taliban physically and face–to–face is far greater than the suicide bombers and gunmen whom Zardari referred to as the only Taliban opposition force. Thousands of school and university women and girls have taken to the front lines to fight the Taliban, using their strength, voices, and even tears. Some of these girls have endured torture and exile, while others continue to teach by holding private classes. Moreover, the support for social presence and women‘s right to education and work has been unprecedentedly welcomed throughout the country. Rural men, local influencers, and even non–Taliban mullahs have expressed their opposition to the Taliban‘s anti–women and anti–education policies through meetings, speeches, and individual or collective protests. The majority of the population stands in solidarity with women, warning the Taliban that imprisoning and depriving them in such a brutal manner is unacceptable. It is the public resistance and protest of the people that has caused the international community and even the supporters of the Taliban, including Pakistan, to not recognize the Taliban emirate. Since last year, the Minister of Pakistan‘s Ministry of Interior and several other officials of that country have admitted in the media that supporting the Taliban was a mistake. The Prime Minister of Pakistan‘s shameful words at that time, which interpreted the size of power by the Taliban as the end of the Afghan slavery era, have now become a sign of the ignorance and malice of Pakistan’s intelligence and diplomacy apparatus, and this has been repeatedly exposed to the authorities of that country.
3) Cultural resistance: The people of Afghanistan have resisted the Taliban in order to protect their culture and values, as the primitive behavior of this group with regards to cultural matters has provoked the ire of a large portion of the Afghan population. Afghanistan is home to a rich and varied culture, due to its geography, which has been the target and passage of invaders as well as the meeting place of various cultures of the region, making it a unique cultural treasure. The Taliban, who lack the literacy and intelligence to comprehend such diversity and its importance, have taken the easy route of decolorization, similar to their approach to politics and religion. As a result, in the three decades of their political presence, they have been engaged in a cultural war with the country‘s inhabitants. The suppression of singers, prohibition of music, dance, painting, and sculpture, as well as national and cultural celebrations and ceremonies, has caused this group to be met with opposition from different layers and strata of people. The Taliban‘s policy on language–related issues and attempts to unify the language of departments, institutions, and media have turned millions of our compatriots into opponents of the Taliban. The intensity of the people‘s reaction to the Taliban‘s cultural policies can be seen in the mass media, which has become a battleground for confrontation between the Taliban and non-Taliban.
4) Global resistance: Over the past two decades, Afghanistan has developed into a powerful nation that is beyond the Taliban‘s capacity to control. Cities have grown, the population has become educated and accustomed to city life, and the number of people attending and voicing their opinions at international conferences and forums has far exceeded that of Taliban fighters. Today, thousands of Afghans are in contact with different countries around the world at various levels. They meet with people and governments, discussing the current situation in Afghanistan. They talk about the Afghan people and how they have been denied basic rights such as travel, study, and education. Wide access to the media has enabled the world to witness the brutality of Taliban rule and the suffering of millions of victims. As a result, the number of people supporting the Afghan people‘s resistance against the Taliban is growing daily. Institutions and prominent figures are actively lobbying and raising awareness of the danger of continued Taliban rule. Global sympathy for the people of Afghanistan and fear and mistrust of the Taliban around the world are integral components of the resistance against the Taliban.
5) Military resistance: Since they entered the political arena, the Taliban have always been met with military opposition. From the start, they were a fighting force, and they remain so to this day. After two rounds of government, they have been unable to abandon their identity as fighters and present themselves as a political alternative. That is, when the Taliban first appeared in Kandahar (in the mid–1990s), they did not present any political plan. Instead, they demonstrated their military might and entered the field with force. When they conquered Kabul, they sent a group of armed mullahs into the offices, who knew nothing but to fight and deny. They did not reform or modify the institutions and systems, but rather negated them. They did not criticize and modify the values and policies but rejected and negated them. They did not attempt to convince and bring people together but instead removed and suppressed them. It could be argued that war was already occurring even in the absence of the Taliban. However, the difference between the Islamic Republic and the Taliban was that when the Taliban lost their military power, they were essentially ‘non–existent‘ for several years.
When they were removed from the battlefield, the Taliban also disappeared from politics and media. The first years of the Islamic Republic passed without war or gunfire. As the Taliban were a militia force, they did not demonstrate any resistance against the non–Taliban system until they were provided with weapons and ammunition by foreign supporters. Prior to this, no national or mass movement was initiated against the Taliban. However, on August 15, 2021, when the Taliban returned, despite the world‘s agreement to surrender the regime to them, thousands of people went to Panjshir and Andrab to fight the oppressive regime. Since that day, the sound of gunfire has not ceased. Even if we do not rely on the words of the Taliban‘s opponents, this group itself has left evidence of the resistance of the last year and a half in their declarations, videos, speeches, and orders. The repeated reports of the cleansing of Panjshir and Andrab, the publication of photos of those arrested, the video images of the execution of prisoners, the appointment and replacement of commanders, and prisons full of opponents all demonstrate that the armed resistance against the Taliban is still active. Recently, one of the Taliban officials mentioned in the celebration of the anniversary of the withdrawal of the Soviet forces stated that those still engaged in the resistance should cease fighting.
The military resistance against the Taliban is still not yet strong enough to be considered an immediate threat to their regime. However, the past year and a half has demonstrated that the Taliban still view themselves as a militant and jihadist group, and despite the extensive propaganda of foreign actors and domestic deceivers, they have not been able to become a political force that the opposition can challenge and oppose through politics and civilian means. The Taliban still rely on suicide bombers, fighters, and their guns, and they view the power they have gained as a result of violence and killing, not political change. Consequently, the aforementioned resistances will inevitably and gradually lead to a path of war that the Taliban will recognize.
Unfortunately, all of the efforts made during the Doha negotiations and the past year and a half to change the Taliban and foster their political capacity in order to create a system of stability, security, and progress have been revealed to be false and misguided. The Taliban are a jihadist, terrorist, anti–stability, anti–institution, anti–culture, and destructive force that relies on tension and war for its survival. Consequently, society must prepare for a potential bloody confrontation, whether they like it or not. If the Taliban can be transformed from a militia force and a terrorist jihadist group into a political group with an agenda that can be discussed and opposed in terms of culture, religion, science, government, administration, and management, then the resistance will be negated. However, does the Taliban have the capacity to become a political group? If the answer is no and the Taliban are unable to accept the realities of the time and the people‘s wishes, then the people will use all of the tools of resistance at their disposal to bring their common enemy to their knees.